Clinical or Medical Misdiagnosis and Medical Missed Diagnosis is incredibly upsetting and frustrating for those affected by it. Ultimately it could make the difference in saving someones life or causing their death or permanent injury.
An illness or injury that could have been treated or cured may be worsened by a simple and avoidable error. Doctors and nurses do have a difficult and stressful job and mistakes do happen.
In most cases these mistakes are minor clerical errors that won’t affect the patient at all. However, when your health is changed for the worse, it is sometimes possible to make a claim for clinical negligence.
Misdiagnosis is diagnosing the wrong disease, or diagnosing a disease where there is none, while missed diagnosis is not diagnosing a disease at all. According to a 2009 study, the five most commonly misdiagnosed conditions are infection, neoplasm (tumor), myocardial infarction (heart attack), pulmonary emboli (a clot in the lung’s main artery) and cardiovascular disease (which affects the heart or blood vessels.
As these diseases are some of the most frequent killers (cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide), their misdiagnosis can be catastrophic. It can mean that vital medication or surgery isn’t administered in time and people can die because of it. However, due to the difficulty in diagnosing these diseases, it is hard to draw a line between negligence and misfortune.
Diagnosing a disease when there is none can be as bad as a missing a diagnosis that exists. It may lead to unnecessary treatment which can affect the patient for long after. Similarly, diagnosing or testing for the wrong disease can have adverse effects.
A 2012 study found that a large number of patients were told they were HIV-negative as doctors had ordered tests for a related disease, HTLV. This meant that people who may have had HIV were not treated as a result of medical negligence.
A doctor may send you home with medication to give yourself. This could be anything from regular blood tests to prescribed tablets. If you feel you have been made further ill because you have been given the wrong directions, or insufficient information about the medication, you may be entitled to claim.
Mistakes are thankfully rare in surgery due to the strict clerical processes that usually take place. However, when they do happen, they can be upsetting and disastrous.
Sometimes a clerical error can cause doctors, nurses or chemists to think a patient is someone else entirely. While this would usually be noticed through rigorous checking, there are instances where two cases, perhaps with similar names or conditions, are confused and treated for an illness they don’t have.
This may not be too problematic if the wrong medication, like painkillers or aspirin, is administered but other, stronger drugs can have adverse effects when used incorrectly. In some circumstances this can even lead to unnecessary, or incorrect surgery.
Similar to this, there may be an issue of the correct surgery performed on the wrong site. It is possible that surgery intended for the left leg is performed on the right for instance. This is very rare and happens only in extreme cases but, if this does happen, it is a strong case of clinical negligence. It causes issues with the leg that is operated on and doesn’t solve the original issue with the first leg, creating further distress and pain for the patient.
Mental illnesses are particularly prone to misdiagnosis. This may be due to our relative lack of understanding of many psychological issues. Medicine is not always an exact science and this is especially true for psychological medicine. Our knowledge of certain illnesses is growing but some diagnoses are still relatively new.
This is partly a result of the 20th Century’s Civil Rights Movement and a growing diversity in who becomes a doctor. Homosexuality, for example, was only removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (published by the American Psychiatric Association) in 1974 after campaigning, meaning that it was considered a mental illness and would be treated as such to that point.
Similarly, “female hysteria” was a very common catchall diagnosis in Western Europe until the early 20th Century for symptoms including: faintness, insomnia, shortness of breath, loss of appetite for food and sex, sexual desire and a “tendency to cause trouble”.
In some cases, this would lead to forced institutionalisation, and a hysterectomy (removal of the womb). Fortunately, the understanding of these illnesses is influenced less by the doctor’s personal opinion but there are exceptions. Dissociative identity disorder (DID), for instance, is considered a myth by many doctors. It is a disorder in which the patient has multiple personalities that act differently to each other.
One of the major issues with DID is its use as an excuse for crimes. DID has become more prevalent in courts for crimes such as murder and rape. The majority of criminals that have cited dissociative identity disorder as the cause of their crime have been found guilty and have been punished accordingly. Because of this, people that genuinely have the illness lose credibility.
People that are diagnosed with DID have been, on average, diagnosed with five different illnesses beforehand due in part to an unwillingness to diagnose DID. Missed diagnoses of DID will let the illness continue as the patient is denied medication and therapy.
A relatively new approach to the diagnostic process is ‘test-retest reliability’, where multiple doctors diagnose the patient’s illness separately through independent evaluations with the intention of coming to a more accurate conclusion.
If you feel you have been the victim of clinical or medical misdiagnosis, or medical missed diagnosis please contact us today and speak directly to one of our solicitors. They will be able to give free no obligation advice over the telephone, and may be able to tell you there and then if you are able to make a claim for compensation.